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Cardinals will indeed see embattled Elliott

Posted by Darren Urban on September 21, 2017 – 2:56 pm

Considering a few weeks ago, it was the Cowboys, not the Cardinals, who were going to be missing their star running back for the teams’ “Monday Night Football” matchup, things have changed considerably. David Johnson, of course, is out after wrist surgery. Ezekiel Elliott, who was once expected to be suspended at this point, will play as his case winds through the courts.

Elliott gained only eight yards rushing last week on nine carries, a combination of Denver’s defense and the hole the Cowboys found themselves within. Elliott shrugged off the idea the Broncos might have found the blueprint of how to slow the Dallas offense.

“Every week people stack the box,” Elliott told Dallas reporters. “It’s not something we’ve seen for the first time.”

Elliott has had a doubly rough week. Already dealing with the suspension hanging over his head and then getting stuffed by the Broncos, Elliott was then seen at the end of the game stopping completely after a Dak Prescott interception, making no effort to even try to get to a tackle.

(“I would say I was just very frustrated, but that’s no excuse for the lack of effort I showed on tape,” he said. “I just can’t do that. Being one of the leaders on the team and being a guy that people count on, I can’t put that type of stuff on film.” Elliott added, “I wasn’t myself.”)

The Cardinals have done a decent job against the run in their first two games. The Lions gained only 82 yards on the ground and the Colts 76. But neither team has the rushing potential of the Cowboys, with Elliott and one of the best offensive lines in the league. Holding him to less than 10 yards would be great — but unrealistic. Containing him somewhat is the goal, trying to mitigate whatever advantage an Elliott-minus-David-Johnson equation creates.


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The near-misses of Markus Golden

Posted by Darren Urban on September 20, 2017 – 10:49 am

Chandler Jones is off to a smoking start this season, with three sacks in two games and causing consistent havoc. Markus Golden, the team’s sack leader from 2016, definitely made an uptick in pressures in Week 2, after struggling to make much of an impact in Detroit Week 1. Pro Football Focus had Golden with a single QB pressure against the Lions, and had him with five against the Colts. After re-watching Golden’s play in both games, I’ll agree with the assessment.

Originally, watching in real time, I thought Golden had missed out on maybe three or four sacks already. A review changed my mind, and put the number at two (although I’m sure Golden is disappointed he didn’t get those two.) I thought Golden was closer on one in Detroit, a third-and-12 play in which Lions QB Matthew Stafford spun away and was able to get a pass off when it looked like a sack was inevitable. Golden was close, but Corey Peters was closer and it’s still hard to believe Stafford got away.

Against the Colts, Golden’s two near-misses came early in the game. The first came with Golden face-to-face with Jacoby Brissett and getting both hands on him, only to have the QB sidestep long enough to throw the ball away. The second (pictured) was even more painfully close, although Brissett was eventually “sacked” by linebacker Josh Bynes because he was forced out-of-bounds behind the line of scrimmage. Both were second-and-long plays.

The sacks will come. As Bruce Arians said, “one thing about Junk, you know he’s going full speed.” (Junk is short for Golden’s nickname, Junkyard Dog). Watching every Golden pass rush, that’s what you notice, the effort. It’s got to land, though. With the Cardinals’ offense suffering through fits and starts, the defense has to lead the way, and Golden needs to be near the front of the line.


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Cardinals saved at third-and-20

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2017 – 11:36 am

Part of the story of the game-saving (season saving?) third-down-and-20 completion to Jaron Brown Sunday was how the Cardinals even got there in the first place.

— First came the FUBAR Carson Palmer “sneak” on third-and-1 for four yards, gaining a first down at the Cardinals’ 24-yard line. All was OK, more or less.
— The next play, the right side of the offensive line collapses. Right tackle Jared Veldheer is pushed back, and for some reason, right guard Evan Boehm disengages with the tandem block he has on his man with center A.Q. Shipley to help Veldheer, allowing that rusher to go in a straight line to Palmer, where both pass rushers engulf the QB for a six-yard loss.
— On second-and-16, Palmer tries the fake-screen-left-screen-right to Andre Ellington, who is buried for a four-yard loss.

That’s how the Cards ended up at third-and-20, and why things were so bleak. It wasn’t just that it was third-and-20, but how they got there.

“Not an ideal situation to be in obviously, especially against the way they were playing, sort of sitting back a lot and sitting at sticks, at the first down yard marker a lot,” Palmer said. “That’s, you know, Jaron making a big play.”

Brown needed to hang on, but to be truthful, the Cardinals were given the perfect defense. For whatever reason, not only were the Colts playing back, but Brown had a free run all 20 yards to the first-down line. Palmer did a nice job sliding up in the pocket and got rid of the ball just before Jabaal Sheard hit him as he got past Veldheer one more time. Brown hung on to the ball as he took a hit to gain 22.

The Cardinals then lined up and bombed away, with the J.J. Nelson 45-yard TD catch on the next play.

There were a little more than eight minutes left as this was all playing out. Brown has made his share of plays over the years but I don’t recall many like this. Same with Palmer — it was a third-down conversion that reminded me of a Palmer-scramble-to-hit-Jake-Ballard in Seattle in 2013. That was only needing something like six yards, though. To get 22, and give the Cardinals any hope of winning — and then to have them win — gives this play gravitas.


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Keim: Disappointing, frustrating but Cards won

Posted by Darren Urban on September 18, 2017 – 8:21 am

Not surprisingly, General Manager Steve Keim had his issues with what he saw from the Cardinals Sunday in Indy. Things the Cards have talked about fixing — red-zone offense, cleaning up mental mistakes, fewer turnovers — have yet to be fixed.

“It’s frustrating while game is going on and next day it’s a little disappointing watching tape,” Keim said Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7, “but at the end of the day … I don’t remember how we won the games. I just remember we won.”

— Quarterback Carson Palmer, like many on offense, was “up and down,” Keim said. The interception Palmer threw was “unacceptable,” Keim said, although that was easy to see. (Palmer has thrown a few INTs like that in his Arizona years, when the safety is just waiting there over the top. The one at the end of the Pittsburgh game in 2015 when the Cards had a chance to win that game stands out in my head.) But Keim said Palmer also made a couple of throws not every QB can make.

— I am surprised I didn’t hear about this on Twitter, because usually someone points this stuff out, but apparently backup QB Drew Stanton starting throwing on the sideline at some point during the game and Keim was asked if there was any thought of Stanton replacing Palmer. Keim said Bruce Arians hadn’t said anything to him, and that there have been multiple times when Stanton will throw a bit just to stay loose on a sideline at games.

— Running back Chris Johnson played well, Keim said, and then the GM underscored one of the reasons Johnson was likely released going into the regular season. “He showed a burst I thought quite frankly he was missing in the preseason,” Keim said,

— Keim praised Chandler Jones, who had a handful of tackles, drew a couple of holding penalties and had two sacks. Rookie safety Budda Baker also caught Keim’s eye, making an excellent tackle as gunner on a 55-yard Andy Lee punt to make it a net of 54 yards, and also making a nice tackle of a receiver short of the sticks on a third down. He was also happy with the play of new guard Alex Boone, other than “one or two snaps.”

— The pressure off the edge is good, Keim said, but the Cardinals need to do a better job getting an interior rush and helping collapse the middle. (This was an area of concern after Calais Campbell left. Robert Nkemdiche did play in his first game Sunday, getting 19 snaps, but he did not record a stat.)

— The miss by kicker Phil Dawson was a surprise, as was the one last week. Keim does think the special teams are much better, from Lee to the coverage units. Dawson can’t miss kicks like that, Keim acknowledged, but “he is the kind of guy I have a lot of faith in.”

— J.J. Nelson is still working on things, like getting off press coverage and being more consistent catching the football. But with his speed and ability to get deep, it’s “something we direly need in this offense.”

— The Cardinals flew out on Saturday instead of Friday despite the 10 a.m. Arizona start in Sunday. Usually in such situations, they leave Friday. Keim said a couple of things went into the decision, including the extra-long camp and how much time away from family everyone has had. But he added that it shouldn’t matter. “We have to be ready to play,” Keim said.

— Keim said he talked to David Johnson after the running back had surgery. Told Johnson he can’t get caught up in all the speculation of how much time he will miss. “Nobody can froecasat how much time, especially when you are such a genetic freak like him,” Keim said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if David heals faster than most.”


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Colts aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2017 – 3:48 pm

When the game ended and Tyrann Mathieu was leaving the field, Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett found his Sunday overtime nemesis for a moment.

Seems that when Mathieu was at LSU and Brissett was at Florida in 2011, Brissett’s first college start came against the Tigers and Mathieu picked him off that day. Then Sunday, in Brissett’s first start for the Colts, there was Mathieu again.

“He was like, ‘Damn, bro, every time I start, why you have to pick me off?’ ” Mathieu recounted. “I was like, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know why you threw it at me then.’ ”

The Honey Badger smiled, because it was humorous and it was also the kind of story you really only tell after a win. The Cardinals did that with the 16-13 overtime squeaker – and props to my cohort Kyle Odegard, who on our podcast this week talked about how the Cards would be happy even with a 14-13 win and oh, was he close – and so Mathieu could be happy. He made the big play, cutting in front of Donte Moncrief, and Phil Dawson finished the rest.

No one is proclaiming the Cardinals in a good place. They have to score more, they have to force more turnovers. But if it wasn’t for a bad leverage penalty on a field-goal block try by Rodney Gunter, the Colts still would not have a touchdown this season. The defense did OK (the Cowboys are going to be a much sturdier test next week). The offense is what it is right now, trying to find itself through injuries and with a quarterback who is not playing anywhere near the level they need.

“The quarterback has to play better,” coach Bruce Arians said. “Simple.”

The protection has to be better too, Arians said, but everyone knows it starts at QB. Palmer got better when he needed to – that 45-yard throw to Nelson for the touchdown was gorgeous – but he can’t make the forced interception like he did, either.

— Kerwynn Williams has shown he can gain yards in this league, but it sure looked like the Cardinals’ best course of action at running back with David Johnson down will be to use veteran Chris Johnson. CJ2K gained four yards a carry on 11 carries, and looked comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised if Arians ends up more comfortable with a lot of CJ too.

— So many near-sacks again. Markus Golden had a couple early. Chandler Jones too. The defense did well most of the game, but they need to finish off some of these sacks. A turnover before overtime would help too.

— J.J. Nelson has become a significant weapon. Arians is right, it’s not important in John Brown’s absence, it’s important regardless.

— The Cardinals didn’t appear to get anyone injured, which is a good result after the carnage in Detroit.

— The Cardinals had a third-and-1 on the drive that ended up being Nelson’s 45-yard TD catch. Whatever the play was supposed to be, Palmer fumbled the snap on an awkward-looking play to begin with. Somehow, the middle of the defense parted, and Palmer picked up the ball and fell forward four yards for a first down.

“That wasn’t a quarterback sneak, that was a total FUBAR,” Arians said, “from the coaches on the sideline getting the right players in the game to the right players staying in the game and executing the play. We were lucky.”

— Not sure if Jared Veldheer is still having comfort issues on the right side of the line, but he was beat a couple of times. Not that the other guys don’t make plays – Jabaal Sheard is proving to be a pretty good player – but they are expecting more (and needing more) from Veldheer.

— Surprising Phil Dawson missed the first one. He also mentioned he had heard so much about last year’s Cards’ kicking woes it “built up.” The last thing the Cardinals need is for the new guy to be impacted. Hopefully the OT kick gets things smoothed over.

— Larry Fitzgerald had a big smile after the win. He didn’t do much – three catches, 21 yards – but they won. And that made everyone happy.


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With Gresham, five offensive starters out for Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 17, 2017 – 8:30 am

Bruce Arians was just talking, going into the first game of the season, how the inactive list was going to have so many healthy scratches. That isn’t the issue anymore, unfortunately for the Cardinals. Tight end Jermaine Gresham, who didn’t practice all week after getting bodyslammed last week late in the game and hurting his ribs, won’t play. That means five offensive starters from the opener won’t play this week, including the now-on-IR running back David Johnson.

A quick look at the replacements in the lineup goes like this: Johnson will be replaced by Kerwynn Williams at running back. Mike Iupati will be replaced by Alex Boone at left guard. D.J. Humphries will be replaced by John Wetzel at left tackle. John Brown will be replaced by Jaron Brown at wide receiver. Gresham will be replaced by Ifeanyi Momah at tight end.

The full inactive list for the game against the Colts:

— G Mike Iupati (triceps)

— WR John Brown (quad)

— T D.J. Humphries (knee)

— QB Blaine Gabbert

— RB D.J. Foster

— LB Deone Bucannon (ankle)

— TE Jermaine Gresham (ribs)

On a good note, Johnson had successful wrist surgery, so step one of his process to come back has begun.


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Defensive opportunity, Friday before the Colts

Posted by Darren Urban on September 15, 2017 – 4:21 pm

So it was a week about the Cardinals’ offense and the struggles last week and the injuries they already have endured just one game into the season. This is a defense that is healthy – save for the nearing-a-return-but-not-yet Deone Bucannon – and about to face a Colts’ offense Sunday that scored only nine points in Los Angeles last week, has a quarterback crisis and a decimated offensive line.

It’s the kind of offense a defense can get after pretty hard, especially one like the Cardinals, which may be asked to shoulder a bigger load going forward.

“You’d be crazy if you thought like that,” linebacker Markus Golden said. “This is the NFL, man. That’s the real part about it. If you think like that, I don’t even want you on my team. That’s how I feel about it.

“It ain’t like we’re a super-team. We’re like them. We lost last week and we’re trying to get back on the winning side.”

The Cardinals get it. They get the position they are in, what they face after injuries. Anyone concerned about a trap game – which to me can’t be, no matter how rough the Colts looked, because of where the Cards are – shouldn’t be.

“We understand it’s the NFL,” safety Tyrann Mathieu said. “The Rams’ defense is tough on everybody. We don’t really look at that. If you look at it that way you’ll probably lose some respect for those guys (on the Colts).”

This was always going to be a big game. Bruce Arians back in Indy and all that. It was supposed to be Andrew Luck vs. Mathieu and Patrick Peterson, a clash of two playoff hopefuls. The Colts are anything but, thanks in large part to Luck’s injury. The Cards want to make sure their hopes aren’t dashed so soon themselves.

— Players like Golden and Mathieu were all saying Jacoby Brissett would be the QB they face, which was what had been reported by multiple outlets. Colts coach Chuck Pagano would not name a starter Friday, however, and Bruce Arians took his friend at his word.

“We’ll see who steps into that huddle,” Arians said. “Chuck hasn’t said s*** yet.”

— Given all the offensive shuffling, it’s almost lost that Robert Nkemdiche will be getting a chance to play. He’ll have a chance to go against undrafted rookie Deyshawn Bond, who is playing center with Ryan Kelly injured. If Nkemdiche can show a little of what he showed in the preseason, that’d be a nice start. Given everything he’s been through, he needs a good game in this situation.

— Not much more to say about Palmer this week. The injuries around him do not help. This is why you sign an Alex Boone, to fill in for Iupati. You hope John Wetzel plays better. Offensive line play across the league is not been great. The Cards are not alone. But they have to make it a little better for Palmer, and Palmer has to be a lot better.

— The blocking also has to be better for the running game, which didn’t produce much even before Johnson got hurt. Andre Ellington/Kerwynn Williams was the 2014 running tandem once Jonathan Dwyer was released, so it’s not unfamiliar. The Cards leaned on the defense that season a lot (Palmer only played six games because of injuries) but you need some production on the ground. Where Chris Johnson fits in — especially after Arians said Elijhaa Penny will have an offensive role — is anyone’s guess.

— We will see how much of a role Chad Williams actually has on offense with Smoke out. Still, the pass catching will probably come down more to Fitz, Jaron Brown and J.J. Nelson, with Andre Ellington out of the backfield. Nelson actually has eight touchdowns in his last 10 games (Thanks for the stat, Whiz!) He can’t be dropping bombs like he did last week, but Nelson has gotten better with Carson Palmer and as a deep threat, the Cards need him. Badly.

— Speaking of potential pass catchers, curious to see if Ifeanyi Momah can be a factor. Every time he plays in the preseason, he seems to have a few receptions. Now, with Jermaine Gresham missing practice all week, he’s got a chance to be involved. We talk “Next Man Up,” but the next men up understand more people fret about those injured than are comforted by who is stepping in.

“It almost can be a chip on the shoulder sometimes, but honestly, I just try to do the best I can every day,” Momah said. “It was a good experience for me, first game of the preseason, starters didn’t play and I got to play into the second half. From that game, I was able to build off that, someone who can fill in.”

Ring of Honor member Roy Green is being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame tonight.

— Speaking of former Cardinals, this came out last week, but if you have not seen it, it is a well-produced mini-documentary into the free-agent decision of Calais Campbell when he left the Cards in the spring. It’s worth a watch.

— I’ll leave you with this: Defensive coordinator James Bettcher grew up in a small town (Lakeville) in Indiana, and told a story this week about the first time he went to an NFL game when he was a kid.

“I remember Pops took me to my first Colts game, one of my best friends and his dad,” Bettcher said. “It was in the RCA Dome and like I said, from a small town of extremely hardworking people and to be able to go to a game like that was something special. Then you see the size of the stadium and you think, ‘Wow, how could I ever be down on the sideline?’

“To think now how fortunate I am to be a coach in the National Football League. It means something to me to work with the players I work with here and how fortunate I am to be a Cardinal. Maybe that’s what I get out of (this trip). To reflect back.”

See you in Indy.


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Dray provides tight end insurance

Posted by Darren Urban on September 14, 2017 – 8:35 pm

Troy Niklas appeared on the injury report today with a hip injury. Not great news anyway, but harder still with Jermaine Gresham yet to practice this week because of the ribs injury he suffered when he was bodyslammed at the end of the Detroit game. So when there were multiple reports Thursday night the Cardinals were bringing in veteran tight end Jim Dray — nothing has been officially announced by the team — it made sense.

UPDATE: The Cards have officially signed Dray, cutting LB Philip Wheeler.

Dray was drafted by the Cardinals in 2010 and played the first four years of his career in Arizona. He was in Cleveland the two years after that and then spent time with the 49ers and Bills last year. This doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be active Sunday in Indy — he might just be in case if Gresham and Niklas can’t go. But figuring you want three tight ends active on game day, with two hurting (Ifeanyi Momah is OK), having one extra in case is smart.


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Still waiting on Smoke

Posted by Darren Urban on September 14, 2017 – 12:14 pm

Among the many things that have to concern the Cardinals right now is the ongoing iffy status of wide receiver John Brown, who is still hurting from his quad injury, missing practice this week and struggling in the second half in Detroit to not let it affect him. Smoke had four catches for 32 yards against the Lions and would have had another had Carson Palmer not one-hopped him on an easy out route during the game, a play that would’ve picked up 12 or 14 yards.

But realistically, Brown is that guy who is supposed to cause some havoc deep. He is not that guy right now and it gums up what the Cardinals would want to do. Whether he can fully recover sooner rather than later is to be determined, but whatever his malady — and it’s not the same issues he had last season — this has been rough on the Cardinals in general. Smoke is fast when he’s right. That’s missing.

The Cardinals won’t have running back David Johnson or left tackle D.J. Humphries this weekend. They might not have guard Mike Iupati (although that’s one of the reasons you sign a vet like Alex Boone.) I’m curious to see what Brown can do the remainder of the practice week. I’m guessing he will play, taking it easy in practices so he can be as ready as he can be on Sundays. But as everyone can see, full-speed Smoke is so dynamic, when he isn’t full speed, it makes an impact the other way.


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David Johnson’s Christmas return?

Posted by Darren Urban on September 12, 2017 – 5:51 pm

David Johnson went on injured reserve today. Teams can bring back two players total from IR in a season. They don’t have to be designated ahead of time. Johnson is an obvious candidate, and with an 8-to-12-week wrist injury and the need to stay on IR at least eight weeks before being eligible to return, that means the earliest, best-case scenario for Johnson would be a comeback on Tuesday, Nov. 7. That happens to be the week the Cards host the Seahawks on Thursday night, Nov. 9. It was always unlikely Johnson would make that initial date.

But Tuesday night, during his weekly interview on Sirius XM NFL radio, Arians said it could be much later.

“Hopefully, as miraculous as he came back from that knee injury last year, I’m hoping we can possibly get him back by Thanksgiving or Christmas,” Arians said.

That’s a show stopper.

Thanksgiving is one thing. But the Cardinals play the next-to-last game of the regular season on Christmas Eve, at home against the Giants. Even if we don’t get technical on Arians and assume he means Christmas week, that would only leave two regular-season games he could play. If not, it’s one game, the finale at Seattle. That would seem to make an assumption the Cardinals are in or have a chance to be in the postseason. Because bringing Johnson back for at most two games doesn’t make a lot of sense.

It would put also Johnson’s timetable to return at 14 weeks (Thanksgiving would be 10 weeks), which is on the far other side of 8-to-12 weeks. And it shows just how serious this injury is to the all-pro running back.

 


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